Still some­thing to talk about

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - GRA­HAM ROCKINGHAM The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor grock­ing­ham@thes­pec.com 905-526-3331 | @Rock­atTheSpec

Back dur­ing the height of her ca­reer — shortly af­ter she swept the 1990 Gram­mys with her break­through album “Nick of Time” — Bon­nie Raitt found her­self in­un­dated with demo tapes from as­pir­ing song­writ­ers.

So much so, that Raitt used to po­si­tion boxes of tapes through­out var­i­ous places in her house, al­ways near a por­ta­ble cas­sette deck.

She had a box in her kitchen, an­other in her bath­room, each one con­tain­ing dozens of tapes. Per­haps one would be her next hit.

One day she picked up a cas­sette from a Cana­dian singer-song­writer by the name of Shirley Eikhard. Raitt had never heard the name. She thinks it could have been sit­ting in the box for a cou­ple of years.

None­the­less, Raitt plugged the tape into the player.

There were four songs on it. One of them was called “Some­thing to Talk About.” It would not only be Raitt’s next hit. It would be her big­gest, win­ning her an­other Grammy for best fe­male vo­cal per­for­mance in 1992.

“All four of the songs just knocked me out,” Raitt says on the phone from her north­ern Cal­i­for­nia home. “I loved her voice and I thought it was so far and above any­body else’s tape.”

There was no In­ter­net back then, so Raitt had to start mak­ing in­quiries about this Eikhard per­son through her record la­bel. Co­in­ci­dently, Eikhard was signed to the same la­bel as Raitt, Capi­tol. Eikhard had had some suc­cess in Canada, but was an un­known in the United States.

Eikhard had writ­ten her phone num­ber on the tape. Raitt de­cided to call her up and give her a sur­prise.

“I waited un­til I recorded the song, to call up the num­ber on the cas­sette,” Raitt re­calls. ‘I said ‘Hey, Shirley, it’s Bon­nie Raitt, lis­ten to this.’ I pushed play and played her own song back and hung up the phone. It went over to voice mes­sag­ing.

“She called us back and couldn’t have been more de­lighted. The rest is his­tory. That song is the gift that keeps on giv­ing.”

Not long af­ter, Eikhard and Raitt met face to face at a con­cert. The two have main­tained ties since. She would love to see Eikhard at one of her shows on her up­com­ing cross-Canada tour, which stops at Hamil­ton’s FirstOn­tario Con­cert Hall on Tues­day, June 6.

“I think she’s made an album al­most ev­ery year or two and she sends me a copy of them,” Raitt, 67, says about Eikhard. “Some­times she’s free and is able to come to our shows, some­times she’s off tour­ing. I’m hop­ing our paths cross in Canada.”

In­ter­est­ingly enough, the two may cross paths when Raitt’s tour comes to Lon­don on June 3. Reached at her home near Orangeville, Eikhard said she plans on at­tend­ing that show.

Eikhard re­mem­bers well the an­swer­ing-ma­chine mes­sage Raitt left for her. Eikhard said she wrote “Some­thing to Talk About” in the mid-’80s in Nashville and that Cana­dian singer Anne Mur­ray had ex­pressed in­ter­est in it.

Iron­i­cally, Mur­ray bor­rowed the song’s name for her 1986 “Some­thing to Talk About” album but never in­cluded the song. The song even­tu­ally made its way to Raitt’s box of cas­settes.

“I was liv­ing in Har­ris­ton, Ont., at the time, about two hours north of Toronto,” Eikhard says about the night she found Raitt on her an­swer­ing ma­chine. “There was a bliz­zard and I was driv­ing home from (ac­tress/singer) Di­nah Christie’s home in Mount Forest through all this snow. I got home and there was this thing on my ma­chine. There was Bon­nie … I was numb. I was a fan of Bon­nie since my teens.”

Al­though Raitt has writ­ten her share of songs over the years — she has five writ­ing cred­its on her new album “Dig in Deep” — Raitt is best known for her soar­ing vo­cals and blis­ter­ing slide gui­tar.

It was that slide gui­tar that drew her to the at­ten­tion of Warner Records in the early ’70s. Raitt, daugh­ter of leg­endary Broad­way singer John Raitt, had started out play­ing folk gui­tar in high school, learn­ing fin­ger pick­ing from Joan Baez records.

Born in Cal­i­for­nia and raised in the Quaker tra­di­tion in New York state, she be­came en­tranced by Delta blues af­ter hear­ing a Robert Johnson record and taught her­self how to play slide in a rather un­ortho­dox style.

“I never saw any­body do it, I just figured it out,” Raitt says. “I was in my room, I soaked the la­bel off of a Co­ri­cidin pill bot­tle out of my par­ent’s medicine cabi­net and put it on my mid­dle fin­ger. By the time I ac­tu­ally saw some­body play slide and no­ticed it was on their lit­tle fin­ger or ring fin­ger, it was too late. I had al­ready taught my­self how to play on my mid­dle fin­ger.”

While in col­lege, Raitt be­gan play­ing cof­fee houses and hang­ing out with blues leg­ends like Mis­sis­sippi Fred McDow­ell and Son House. She was signed by Warner be­fore she grad­u­ated.

At that time, a woman play­ing slide gui­tar was some­thing of a rar­ity. It still is.

“It is what set me apart and got my foot in the door be­cause I wasn’t an orig­i­nal singer or song­writer,” she says. “But my mix of ma­te­rial was com­pelling enough that Warner Broth­ers of­fered me a record deal in my ju­nior year of col­lege. I’m sure that part of the rea­son that I’ve lasted this long is that my slide gui­tar sets me apart.”

While she nods to slide guitarists such as Low­ell Ge­orge, Ry Cooder and Derek Trucks as in­flu­ences, the artist who had the most im­pact on Raitt was her fa­ther John, who con­tin­ued per­form­ing well into his 80s. He died at the age of 88 in 2005.

Raitt still talks with fond­ness about tour­ing with her fa­ther and the great blues singer John Lee Hooker in the mid-’90s. She would sing a duet with Hooker and then a cou­ple of songs later an­other with her dad.

“He was an ab­so­lute de­light and gave ev­ery­thing at ev­ery per­for­mance,” Raitt says about her fa­ther. “I miss him a lot. When I get feel­ing a lit­tle hoarse and I don’t know if I can hit that note on ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me,’ I al­ways sum­mon him and, all of a sud­den, I’ve got a Broad­way leg­end’s voice com­ing out of me.

“I like to feel that he gives me strength ev­ery day.”

Bon­nie Raitt in Hamil­ton June 6

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